In mid-May 2018, social media users began encountering a photograph of a bus outfitted with child safety seats, which was described in accompanying text as depicting a “special prison bus for babies” use by a “private prison company running detention facilities” for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency:
Certainly the handling and treatment of undocumented children caught crossing the U.S. border has been a subject of controversy going back several years, but whether the vehicle pictured above should justifiably be described as a “special prison bus for babies” is a subjective matter.
U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) maintains a family detention facility for undocumented immigrants called the Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas. That center is managed by GEO Group, Inc., a private company specializing in corrections and detention facilities.
According the GEO Group’s own description, the Karnes facility houses women with children, and it provides educational services (as well monthly field trips) to the school age children held there:
In December 2010, The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO) was selected by Karnes County, Texas to design, build, finance, and manage a new detention facility under an intergovernmental service agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On July 11, 2014, the contract was modified to convert the facility from a Civil Detention Facility into a Family Residential Unit for females and their children.
Residents are provided education programming, medical care, recreation, visitation facilities, recreation, life skills/chores, study time, group interaction, free time, and access to religious and legal services. All residents of school age are offered educational services through a certified charter school. Each classroom is equipped with state-of-the-art smart-boards which allow children to interactively participate in classroom instruction. Field trips are provided monthly for all children to local parks, libraries, and other community events.
The photograph displayed above was featured in a 29 April 2016 Geo Group press release describing the purchase of two “New Specialized Transport Buses” outfitted with convertible child safety seats, intended to be used to carry children ranging from ages 4 to 17 for medical treatment, to court appointments, and on monthly offsite field trips:
The expansion of the Karnes County Residential Center (KCRC) was completed in early December 2015, and increased the capacity to 1,158 beds.
The expansion created new demands to an already unique transportation mission by requiring larger capacity vehicles to provide offsite field trips. These field trips are part of the contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Field trips are provided to all children, ages four through seventeen enrolled in educational programs provided by the John H. Wood Charter School, located at KCRC. Field trips consist of going to a variety of places, such as the San Antonio Zoo, seeing a movie at the local theater, going to the park, etc.
On February 4, 2016, two new fleet vehicles were delivered to the KCRC to fulfill contractual obligations. The first vehicle is an eighteen-seat passenger bus that is ADA compliant with rear wheelchair lift system and the second bus has twenty-six seats. These vehicles do not have standard GTI security equipment such as steel cages or window bars or screens. Both buses have camera systems and digital video recorders to record all activity during transport.
Both buses are outfitted with standard commercial grade cushioned seating. Each seat has a convertible child safety seat and is equipped with a DVD system with four drop down screens to provide entertainment to the children with onboard movies during transport missions.
To date, the field trips have been a huge success and the frequency and numbers of school aged children being transported offsite for these sanctioned activities is expected to increase in the future.
These specialized missions are in addition to normal transportation requirements for offsite medical appointments, offsite medical emergency transports and transports of residents to federal court in San Antonio, Texas or to the ICE Field Office appointments in San Antonio.
So yes, the photograph in question depicts a bus purchased to ferry children being held at an immigrant detention center to medical/legal appointments and recreational functions. Whether that makes it a “prison bus for babies” or merely a transport vehicle outfitted for children is in the eye of the beholder.
Barajas, Michael. “ICE Awards Contract to Private Prison Company That Was Just Slammed in Federal Report.”
HoustonPress. 22 September 2015.
Hennessy-Fiske, Molly. “Ex-Worker at Karnes Immigrant Detention Center Says She Saw Unethical Behavior.”
Los Angeles Times. 27 July 2015.
Carr, Billy. “New Specialized Transport Buses.”
Geo News. 29 April 2016.